June 2, 2018: SS. MARCELLINUS, PETER, AND ERASMUS
June 2, 2018: COMMEMORATION OF SS. MARCELLINUS, PETER, AND ERASMUS, BISHOP, MARTYRS
You three holy Martyrs did all confess Jesus Christ, in the midst of the most terrific storm ever raised by the demon against the Church. Though all three, in different grades of the hierarchy, Priest, Exorcist, Bishop, you were alike guides of the Christian people, drawing them by thousands, in your train, into the arena of martyrdom, and by still more numerous conversions, filling up the void made in earth’s chosen band, by the departure of your victorious companions to heaven. Wherefore, the Church, this day, joins her grateful homage, here below, with the silvery shouts of glad congratulation that ring through the Church triumphant.
O God, who by the yearly solemnity of thy holy Martyrs, Marcellinus, Peter, and Erasmus, comfortest us thy people; mercifully grant, that, as we rejoice at their merits, we may likewise be encouraged by their example. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
The glory of Martyrdom illumines this day, with a profusion rarely met with on the Cycle; and already we seem to descry the rosy dawn of that glad day, excelling all the rest, on which Peter and Paul will consummate, in their blood, their own splendid confession. Italy and Gaul, Rome and Lyons concur in forming a legion of heroes in the service of Heaven. For, to-day, Lyons, the illustrious daughter of Rome, is keeping the special festival of a whole phalanx of warriors, headed by the veteran chief, Saint Pothinus, disciple of Saint Polycarp, who in the second century, levied the brave recruits of his battalion, on the banks of the Rhone. But to the Mother Church are due the first honours. Turn we then to Marcellinus, hailing him who, begetting by his fruitful Priesthood a numerous progeny, shares with them the honours of his triumph, in which they had been rendered worthy by the Holy Ghost at once to partake; let us hail, likewise, the Exorcist Peter, leading to the sacred Font such a long line of pagans won over to Christ by witnessing, at his hand, how great is the weakness of the demons.
When Christianity appeared on earth, Satan was indeed, and visibly so, the Prince of this world. Unto him was every altar reared; to his empire were all laws and customs subservient. From the depths of their famous temples, the demon chiefs directed the political affairs of the Cities that came to consult their oracles; under divers names, the frailest of the fallen angels found honour and influence, at the domestic hearth; others had posts assigned to them, in forests, on mountains, at fountains, or on sea, occupying, in opposition to God, this world that had been created by him for his Glory, but which Satan, through man's accomplicity, had conquered. Four thousand years of abandonment on the part of Heaven, permitted the usurper to consolidate his conquest; and a well planned resistance was skillfully prepared, against the day wherein the lawful King should offer to re-enter on his rights.
The coming of the Word made Flesh, was the grand signal for the asserting of the Divine Claim. The Prince of this world, personally vanquished by the Son of God, understood well enough that he must needs return to the depths of hell. But the countless powers of darkness constituted by him, would maintain the struggle, through the length of ages, and dispute their position inch by inch. Driven from towns by the abjurations of holy Church, and the triumph of martyrs, the infernal legions would fain marshall their ranks in the wilderness; there under the leadership of an Anthony or a Pachomius, the soldiers of Christ must wage against them ceaseless and terrific battle. In the West, Benedict, the Patriarch of Monks, in his turn, meets with altars to the demons, yea, with demons themselves on the heights of Cassino, as late as the sixth century. Even in the seventh, they are found contending against St. Gall, for hold on the woods, lakes, and rocks of what we now call Switzerland; and at last they are heard uttering mournful complaint, because, driven as they have been from the haunts of men, even such desolate spots as these are denied them. Verily, in the divine Mind, the vocation of a monk to the desert, has for its end, not alone flight of the world and its concerns, but likewise, the pursuit of demons into their last intrenchments.
We have dwelt thus upon the foregoing considerations, because their importance is extreme, and is equalled only by depth of systematic ignorance persisted in, on this subject. True Christians of course firmly believe, now as formerly, in the secret and wholly spiritual combat which the soul has to sustain against hell, in the privacy of one's own conscience; but too many have no scruple in rejecting, as if belonging to the domain of imagination, whatever is related of those other combats maintained, by our fathers, against the demons, in an exterior and more public manner. The excuse for such Christians is no doubt, in the fact that they live in a land, where, centuries ago, this war in its external phases, was ended by the social victory of Christendom. But the Holy Ghost has declared that the old serpent, bound up for a thousand years, is at last to be again unchained for a while (Apoc, xx. 2, 3). If, perchance, we be nearing this fatal epoch, it is high time to look about us; ill prepared shall we be for the waging again of the olden battles, by such ignorance as ours, in which we are maintained by that habit of abandoning, to the conceited impertinence of the shallow science that rules the day, facts, (under the name of legend,) the best attested in the history of our ancestors. Yea! after all, what is History, even since the revolt of Lucifer, but the picture of the war that is being waged between God and Satan? Now if, as we have said, Satan has, by divine permission, invaded the exterior world, as well as that of souls, must it not be needful, in order, (as our Lord expresses it) to cast him out (St. John, xii. 31), that the struggle with him be breast to breast and foot to foot, inasmuch as it has assumed an exterior and visible character?
“The Word,” says Saint Justin, “was made Flesh for two ends: to save believers, and to drive away demons.” So also, the expulsion of demons from the places they occupy in this material world, and specially the bodies of men, the noblest part thereof, would appear in the Gospel, to have been one of the chief characteristics of our Saviour's power. Again, when on quitting the earth, He sent his Apostles to continue His work amidst the Nations, this is the very thing He singles out as a primary sign of the mission they are to fulfil (St. Mark, xvi. 17). The world of that day made no mistake about it. Soon enough had the pagans to state the cessation of the ancient oracles, in every place; the cause of a phenomenon of such import to the ancient religion was evident to all: the very demons themselves were not backward in ascribing to the Christian, this their enforced silence. As regards this power of Christianity against hell, the Apologists of the second and third centuries, appeal, on the subject, to public testimony, without fear of a contradicting voice. “Before the eyes of everyone,” says Saint Justin to the Emperors, “the Christians drive out demons in the Name of Jesus Christ, not only in Rome, but in the whole universe.” The gods of Olympus beheld themselves shamefully unmasked, in the presence of their confused adorers, and Tertullian might well challenge thus the magistrates of the Empire: “Let one of those men, who declare themselves to be under the power of the gods, be brought before your tribunals: at the commanding word of the first comer amongst us, the spirit whereby they are possessed, will be constrained to confess what he is; if he avow not himself a demon and no god, fearing to lie unto a Christian, at once shed the blood of this Christian blasphemer. But no; the terror they have of Christ is the reason why the mere touch, or even breathing of one of his servants, forces them to take flight.”
So then, we see, Baptism sufficed to give unto man such power as this; and verily this was the real meaning of our Lord's promise, when speaking of those who would believe in Him, and not alone of the heads of the Church, He said: In my name they shall cast out devils (St. Mark, xvi. 17). At an early date, however, the Church organising the holy war, constituted among her Sons one special Order having for its direct mission the pursuit of Satan, on every point of this visible world. The Exorcists were by this delegation, invested with a power that must needs accelerate the downfall of the prince of this world; and, what would be all the more odious and humiliating in this defeat, the Church raised no higher than to the rank of inferior clergy, an order so terrible, nevertheless, unto hell. Lucifer had aimed at being equal to the Most-High (Isaias, xiv. 12-15); hurled down from heaven, he at least flattered himself in his folly to be able to supplant God upon the earth: and lo! the charge of defeating him here, is confided not to Angels indeed, his equals by nature, but to men, yea, to the least and lowest of this race so easily tricked, that for long ages he had seen men prostrate before him! Lo! the hand of flesh constrains him, spirit though he be, to come off his throne; at their word he must needs cast away his vain adornments, he must unmask himself; the water they bless, rekindles within him his eternal tortures; of the prince of this world and his pomps, naught remains but mere Satan, the ugly faced apostate, the condemned criminal wincing in the dust, at the feet of the sons of men, or fleeing like a dry leaf, at the breath of their mouth.
The Archangel Michael recognises in these sons of Adam, the worthy allies of the faithful Angels he led forward to victory. But amidst these continuators of the mighty battle begun on the heights of heaven (Apoc, xii. 7-9), the Exorcist Peter comes before us to-day radiant with matchless splendour. The triumph of martyrdom has been added to his victories, won over Satan's cohorts. None better than he, drove hell backwards; for, chasing the demons out of men's bodies, he moreover made conquest of their souls. The Priest Marcellinus, his companion in martyrdom, as he had been in victory, is likewise his associate in glory. The Church wishes that these two names of theirs so redoubtable to the spirits of darkness, should shine in one same aureola here below as in heaven. Daily doth she render them the most solemn homage in her power by naming them both, on the diptych of the Holy Sacrifice together with the Apostles and the first of her sons. Such was the importance of the mission they fulfilled and the renown of their final combat, that their bodies, translated to the Via Latina, became the nucleus of an illustrious cemetery. The Christians of the Age of Peace, that came soon after their glorious confession, vied with one another in obtaining sepulture near these soldiers of Christ whose protection they craved; Constantine the Great, the vanquisher of Idolatry, deposited at their sacred feet, the remains of his mother, Saint Helena, who had herself become a terror to the demons by her discovering the True Cross. A celebrated inscription was composed in their honour, by Saint Damasus, who in childhood, had learned the details of their martyrdom, from the very executioner himself, afterwards converted; this inscription hard by their tomb, completed the monuments of that catacomb wherein Christian art had multiplied its richest teachings.
To the memory of Saints Marcellinus and Peter, is joined, in the Liturgy of to-day, the name of a holy Bishop and Martyr, formerly well known to the Faithful. If the Acts of his life that have reached us, are not free from all reproach in a critical point of view, the favours obtained by the intercession of this Saint Erasmus or Elmo, wafted his name over the whole of Christendom, as is attested by the numberless forms this name assumed, in various Countries of the West during the Middle Ages. He holds a place in the group of Saints styled auxiliatores or Helpers, whose cultus is wide spread in Germany and Italy more particularly. Mariners look upon him as their patron, because of a certain miraculous voyage related in his life; one of the tortures to which he was subjected during his Martyrdom, has made him be invoked for the Cholic. Nor should we forget to mention here, how great a veneration Saint Benedict, the Patriarch of Western Monks, had for Saint Erasmus; when he quitted the Campagna for his solitude on the banks of the Anio, he marked his principal station between Subiaco and Monte Cassino, by building a Church and Monastery, at Veroli, under the invocation of this holy Martyr; another was dedicated by him in Rome likewise, to St. Erasmus.
Let us now read the few lines devoted by the Church to the memory of our three Saints.
Peter, an Exorcist, was cast into prison at Rome, under the Emperor Diocletian, by the Judge Serenus, because he confessed the Christian faith. He there set free Paulina, the daughter of Artemius, the keeper of the prison, from an evil spirit which tormented her. Upon this, Artemius and his wife and all their house, with their neighbours who had run together to see the strange thing, would fain be attached unto the service of Jesus Christ. Peter therefore brought them to Marcellinus, the Priest, who baptized them all. When Serenus heard of it, he called Peter and Marcellinus before him, and sharply rebuked them, adding to his bitter words, threats and terrors, unless they would deny Christ. Marcellinus answered him with Christian boldness, whereupon he caused him to be buffeted, separated him from Peter, and shut him up naked, in a prison strewn with broken glass, without either food or light. Peter also he straitly confined. But when both of them were found but to increase in faith and courage, in their bonds, they were beheaded, unshaken in their testimony, and confessing Jesus Christ gloriously, by their blood.
Erasmus Bishop was, in Campania, under the empire of Diocletian and Maximian, beaten with clubs and whips loaded with lead, and afterwards plunged into resin, sulphur, melted lead, boiling pitch, wax also and oil. From all this, he came forth whole and sound; which wonder converted many to believe in Christ. He was remanded again to prison, and straitly bound in iron fetters. But from these he was wondrously delivered by an Angel. At last, being taken to Formi, Maximian caused him to be subjected to divers torments, and, in the end, being clad in a coat of red-hot brass, the power of God made him be more than Conqueror in all these things also. Afterwards, having converted to the faith and confirmed many therein, he obtained the palm of a glorious Martyrdom.
Martyrdom of Ss. Marcellinus, Peter, and Erasmus
Marcellinus was a priest, and Peter an exorcist, both of the clergy of Rome, and eminent for their zeal and piety. In the persecution of Dioclesian, about the year 304, they were condemned to die for their faith: and by a secret order of the judge, the executioner led them into a forest, that the holy men being executed privately, no Christians might be acquainted with the place of their sepulchre. When he had brought them into a thicket overgrown with thorns and briers, three miles from Rome, he declared to them his sanguinary commission. The saints cheerfully fell to work themselves, grubbed up the brambles, and cleared a spot fit for their sepulchre. After they were beheaded, their bodies were buried in the same place. Some time after, Lucilla, a pious lady, being informed by revelation, and assisted by another devout lady named Firmina, took up their bodies, and honourably interred them near that of St. Tiburtius on the Lavican road in the Catacombs. Pope Damasus assures us, that, when a child, he learned all these particulars from the mouth of the executioner himself, and he has inserted them in a Latin epitaph with which he adorned their tomb. Anastasius the librarian testifies, from ancient registers, that Constantine the Great built here a church in honour of these martyrs, in which he caused his mother St. Helena to be buried under a porphyry tomb, on the Lavican road, three miles from Rome, and that he gave to this church a paten weighing thirty-five pounds, of pure gold, with many other rich presents; which are also mentioned by Bede, Ado, and Sigebert. The porphyry mausoleum of St. Helena is still shown among other antiquities near the Lateran basilic. Honorius I, and Adrian I, repaired this church and cemetery of St. Tiburtius, and SS. Marcellinus and Peter, as Anastasius mentions. Not long after the bodies of SS. Marcellinus and Peter were translated into Germany on the following occasion: Eginhard, a German, the favourite secretary of Charlemagne, and his wife Emma, by mutual consent, made a vow of perpetual continency; and becoming a monk, was chosen abbot of Fontenelle, and, in 819, abbot of Ghent. Emma died in 836, to his great affliction, as appears from the letters of Lupus, abbot of Ferrieres, to him. This great man, in 827, sent his secretary to Rome, to procure from Pope Gregory IV, some relics of martyrs to enrich the monasteries which he had founded or repaired. The pope sent him the bodies of SS. Marcellinus and Peter, which Eginhard translated to Strasburg. But soon after he deposited them first at Michlenstad; and afterwards at Malinheim, since called Selgenstad, three leagues from Francfort, and two from Achaffenburgh; where, in 829, he built to their honour a church and monastery, of which he died the first abbot. Besides the life of Charlemagne, and the annals of France, during the reigns of Pepin, Charlemagne, and Lewis Debonnaire, he wrote four books in prose, and one in verse, on the translation of SS. Marcellinus and Peter… Pope Gregory the Great preached his twenty homilies on the gospels in the church of SS. Marcellinus and Peter at Rome; as appears from some of them, and from the testimony of John the Deacon.
[St. Erasmus] suffered torments and a cruel death in the persecution of Dioclesian at Formiӕ, in the year 303. St. Gregory the Great testifies that his body remained in that city in the sixth age. Formiӕ being destroyed by the Saracens in the ninth century, the sacred treasure was translated with the episcopal see to Cajeta, in 842. This saint is corruptly called St. Elmo for Ermo, the abbreviation for Erasmus; and he was usually invocated by sailors in the Mediterranean. St. Erasmus is commemorated in the new Paris Breviary, and a portion of his relics is possessed by a nunnery near Gournay, in that diocess, much frequented by pilgrims.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Time After Pentecost, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1890;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. VI, 1866; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Ss. Marcellinus, Peter, and Erasmus, pray for us.